How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?
A wide range of effects was touched upon, including some perceived as negative, and others seen as being appropriate and far-sighted: the loss of connectedness with communities and with nature, a drier climate, guilt about greenhouse gas emissions, more care of finite resources, and the way affluent countries and corporations have been protective of resources in their own, and other countries. There was a note of alarm in the observation that there is a connection between climate change and conflict over land and resources in various places around the world. Also, someone observed that despite terrifying scientific predictions, most people’s behaviour was not changing very much, and that the consequent position of being a “Cassandra” was an uncomfortable one. Finally, a participant expressed the view that we cannot turn back the clock, and that it is important to look forward to the future in a positive way.
What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse local and global change?
Again, responses included actions and behaviour thought to be inappropriate, as well as more positive choices. It was acknowledged that “we” (perhaps meaning the individuals in the Meeting, the Meeting as a whole, and all of us collectively in the developed world) are wasting energy. It was observed that large corporations are exploiting finite resources in the developing world for consumption in the developed world, leading to less resilience (in both the “advanced” nations and those whose resources are being exploited, perhaps). On the other hand, we noted a number of steps taken by our Meeting, including the Green Fair which took place in our Meeting House in September 2009, when we raised awareness of climate change issues, and welcomed a number of local organisations to promote sustainable living. We spoke of the Energy Audit that has been carried out at the Meeting House, and the Green Meal and Discussion Group which has been running for the last few years (with links to the Living Witness Project, of which the Meeting is a member). Finally, outside the Quaker movement, we recognised the improvements that have been made over the last decade or more in the London environment, for example the cleaning up of the River Thames. Overall, however, it was felt that much more significant action was needed in order to avoid major environmental disaster.
How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to the changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends’ church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
In exploring this question, the group found that the adverse situation had led to reviewing our place in and relationship with, the natural world. We felt that what we do about global change should come from love and truth, or God, in other words. While the doubt was expressed that we may be perceived as being well-meaning cranks, the consensus was that we should follow our inspiration without fear. It was affirmed that we should live simply. We also agreed that the message of love is a simple and direct one, which is generally effective in getting a positive response.
What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings such as major droughts – perhaps from Scripture, perhaps the record of regional or local events – might inspire us to respond to the changes the world is facing today?
We thought this question was encouraging us to take a broader view of the situation. Someone mentioned the Second World War, which brought people together in a sense of community, while rationing promoted a diet that led to better public health than today, but there were also black markets and looting following bombing. These events are altogether larger and more frightening than we like to think of. Hurricane Katrina had showed clearly the potential for chaos and devastation even in a rich country. Had climate or other environmental change led to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt?
Bangladesh had set up a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan following a cyclone some decades ago, which had killed several hundred thousand people. A similar more recent event had cut the death toll by a factor of 100 – there was little doubt that response plans such as this had to be part of the future. How should the West respond to these sorts of conditions? Are we in the West ‘the problem’ – or was our economic growth necessary to help poorer countries ‘to develop’? These matters were certainly very complicated. There was no question but that poorer countries considered that they had the right to the kind of ‘development’ experienced in the West, yet it was also likely that they would be hit hardest by the climate change which, on current patterns, such development would contribute to.
Then there was the issue of continuing population growth. How would we respond if climate change led to greatly increased desire and pressures for inward migration to the UK?
How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion and peace may address significant disruption, stress and tension?
It was certainly possible to paint a very depressing picture about our current predicament. The abundance of nature only seemed to exist in small pockets of uncoordinated conservation, yet these were important in helping people to reconnect with it. There was clearly the danger that under situations of stress and disruption people would retreat into corruption and lawlessness to pursue their narrow self-interests. Yet at the same time the Earth is actually abundant in resources, and there is much evidence that people can respond to calamity in the spirit of justice, compassion and peace – for example many were prepared to dig deep to help immigrants. One problem was that the charitable instincts of individuals were not supported by the current structural tendencies towards inequality. It also didn’t help that one of the most pervasive messages in current society was the desirability and need to consume more – the Quaker message of the benefits of simplicity had much to offer here. We could respond by adopting a simple lifestyle ourselves while offering aid, including access to contraception, at the same time. It may be that capitalism was not the core problem, and the liberal agenda based on capitalism may be doomed because it was too individualistic and did not do enough to emphasise the importance of solidarity and community responses. We needed to develop a shared language with which to respond to global change, incorporating our core beliefs and values – justice, compassion and peace – and keeping reiterating the need for fairness. Our testimony to simplicity was also special and potentially powerful. We need to harmonise the personal, spiritual and political and develop a stronger, more resonant voice.
How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God’s creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?
We need to reflect on our Quaker history of compassionate action, consider deeply what actions flow from our beliefs in human equality and that of God in everyone, and send out a clear message to the outside world. We should be aware of personal resistance to change and guard against being judgmental, while taking opportunities to speak truth to each other and to power. The green message is not one of ‘hairshirtedness’ but of love for Mother Earth. Our greatest gift from God is the environment which sustains us, and we need to treat it with respect, to evolve a right relationship with the living Earth. This mirrors our need for social relationships. We need to move beyond individual consumerist lifestyles, become less lonely and isolated, and more able to contribute to the lives of others. Our actions matter to others, not just ourselves and need to grow out of and support relationships and community. We need to re-work the way we act as people, embracing relationships with and for the planet, for our communities and for society. On the specific issue of population growth, we should support access to birth control and choice, and education and greater income for women in the developing world. Personally we should consider how we can reduce our environmental impacts through changing the way we eat, travel, and heat and furnish our homes. As members of Wandsworth Meeting we should make it far more energy efficient. Britain Yearly Meeting needed to communicate to decision makers a clear values-based message of justice, compassion, peace and simplicity.